Perhaps you read my interview with the New Pornographers’ Carl Newman and wondered: What does Carl Newman think about power-pop, licensing, David Mitchell, and the title of his new album? You’re in luck! (The New Pornographers perform tonight at the 9:30 Club.)
On being called a “power-pop” band:
I was just talking to Will Sheff from Okkervil River, he did a solo show opening for us, and he was saying how annoyed he was because everybody calls him country. And I was like, ‘I know, well we get called power-pop all the time!’ I guess people got to call you something. Like every musician, there’s got to be like, one word that people use to describe them. The thing is, I know we have songs that sound like power pop. You could make a mix tape of our songs, and I’d listen to it and go, ‘Yes, I can’t deny that’s power-pop.’ If you put, I don’t know, “Lots of Change” and “A Slow Descent into Alcoholism”—-arguably not power pop, but a different kind of more forceful pop, I suppose. But for me, power-pop is a very narrow genre. When I think of power pop, I think of the Knack or the Shoes. I think of this kind of bland pop, although I love the Knack, but you know what I’m talking about.
On talking about the part of indie rock that actually involves making money:
It’s interesting to see how musicians are trying to make a living—-the smart moves, and you know, the stupid moves. For some reason indie-rock musicians have to, like, adhere to some idea of indie cred. So, you have to strive to succeed but at the same time try and pretend you’re not trying to succeed, you know? I think that there are so many bands that are trying so desperately hard, but they can never tell anybody about it.
Why I appreciate rap and hip-hop is that, at least it’s honest. A lot of people are saying, “I”m trying to get huge,” and that’s true, everybody is.
Maybe you should try and work some blatant commercialism into your next record.
I try. I’ve been trying to do that.
There are people that just stick to their guns and and say, “No, I will never license our song to a corporation.” But then there’s also, for some people, it’s a lot easier because they’re just incredibly wealthy. It’s easy for Radiohead to not license their songs because they’re massively wealthy, you know?
They can afford to do this massive experiment either way. For somebody else, if somebody offers you $50,000 to do a Ford commercial, well, that could mean a huge difference to somebody’s life, you know? It could mean that you could quit your day job or put a down payment on a house, or pay for a chunk of your kid’s education. And you know, a lot of people who think about “indie cred” are college kids or something. Who have no idea of what it is to really make their way in the world. And of course, I mean, I wouldn’t license music to anybody, but if Wal-art offered me half a million dollars, I would be sitting there in kind of a conundrum thinking, “This is tough. I don’t know what I’m going to do here.” It’d be for a company I’d really dislike.
How much licensing have you done?
Oh, you know, a fair amount scattered through the years. A couple of commercials, or songs in trailers for movies, TV shows. We had a song in a video game.
On his reading habits:
A few years ago, I decided I was going to try and average a book a week. So I was going to try and read 52 books a year. So, I think in the last year, a lot more literature has snuck in [to my songwriting]. I can only remember the last few books I read. Currently I’m reading the new David Mitchell book.
He wrote Cloud Atlas, right?
Yeah. The new book isn’t out here yet, but we were just in London and it came out there. It’s called The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. It’s really good. It’s not as weird as Cloud Atlas. It’s very similiar to the first and last chapters, you know, that happen in the 18th century?
Um, yeah, the guy on a ship.
It’s all based in 1799, in a Dutch trading port just off of Nagasaki. Kind of a historical novel. Really good. I don’t think it’s going to sneak into our next record.
Well, I don’t know, you could write some pirate chanties.
Yeah, the Decemberists are already doing that. Wouldn’t want to work their side of the street.
On their new album’s title Together:
It came from a lot of places. We had two songs on the record that had the word “together” in them. There’s a song from the late sixties, it was one of the first songs that we ever learned when we got together as a band. I think it was a cover we played on our second show. And I got to thinking of calling it that, kind of as a reference to our beginning days. And then, you know, just the meaning of the word “together.” I loved that it was such a cliched title that has been used many times before, but I liked the idea of co-opting, and kind of making it your own. So, when people see the word “together”, maybe they’ll think of our record. And you always see the word “together.” And I’m not expecting that people will think like that, but we were just trying. We noticed that when we looked up all the other albums called Together, there wasn’t really a classic album called Together.
Who else did-who else has an album called Together?
Uh, I don’t remember. It’s a lot of people. You know, like usually a duet album. Like Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell. Or I think the “Young Bloods”. They did that song “Get Together,” you know that song? Old ’60s peace anthem. I think they had an album called Together. They’re at least 40.